Are Micromanagers Office Monsters or Just Mistrusters?

Micro-monsters terrorize teams. But beneath the scales, claws, and teeth we find that micromanagers just have trouble trusting their team. Find out how to conquer mistrust with OKRs in this blog.

What is micromanagement?

Keeping employees happy, motivated, and engaged is key to a productive team. But with so many details to keep up with, some managers get caught up on the everyday tasks and to-dos of their team.

But wait!

Controlling all these moving parts is NOT the best management style. Managers or project leads may come off to the team as “micromanagers,” the worst of the office monsters. In this blog, we’ll cover the ins and outs of micromanagement, including advice on how to foster trust for better team engagement and productivity at all levels of the organization.

What is the definition of micromanagement?

When a boss or manager practices excessive supervision of employees, that’s micromanagement. Rather than telling an employee a task or central goal to be accomplished by a specific date, a micromanager will closely watch employees' actions and frequently criticize their work and progress.

What are the signs of micromanagement?

A manager is at the office, and they notice a couple of employees chatting at the coffee machine. Their mind starts to wonder if everyone is being productive, hitting OKRs, and staying focused. They start to get angry at the thought that their team is wasting invaluable working hours, so they devise new ways to take control; scheduling more meetings, providing more critical feedback, requiring daily check-ins, and demanding that work is done a certain way. After smirking at their plan, they look down to find that they’re growing scales, claws, and sharp teeth. The beast inside of them is coming out…the…the…the micro-monster!

Managers are micro-monsters if they:

  • Need to approve every task that goes through the pipeline.
  • Ask to be cc’d on everything, or ask to be a part of unnecessary slack channels.
  • Are hyper-aware of employee whereabouts, tasks, and projects.
  • Love finding mistakes and editing work. They see criticism as constructive feedback.
  • Find task delegation a painful struggle.
  • Sweat the small stuff

Why is micromanagement bad?

Maybe the justification for micromanagement comes from a good place - managers want their team to succeed. But the thing is, micromanagement is harmful to a team's long-term growth because it creates an environment that “stifles creativity and productivity in the long run.” This leads to demotivated teams, delayed innovation, poor communication and collaboration, as well as poor mental health, and burnout.

Why do people micromanage?

Micromanagement stems from leaders feeling disconnected. When in a leadership role, there’s a fear of isolation or lack of understanding of the work being done at the organization. To compensate for this, leaders may find ways to stay in the loop - maybe through meetings, reports, and feedback. However, since these methods are often short of a goal, the added requirements and steps are perceived as micromanagement.

In another instance, micromanagement can occur because leaders want to maintain the current operational system. Familiarity is comfortable. When leaders enter a new environment or even a new project, they’re used to their old ways of getting the job done. While their methods aren’t always the right ones, micromanagement helps to provide a sense of security to achieve similar goals, manage budgets, and solve problems.

Managers can micromanage for other reasons too, including:

  • Feeling a loss of control
  • Working with a green team
  • Wanting power over employees
  • Having a poor self-image or feeling insecure
  • Being inexperienced in management all together

Oddly enough, if we look deeper into why leaders tend to micromanage, we notice an overarching theme: Micromanagement is a trust issue.

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Trust and micromanagement

When it comes to micromanagement, there’s a disconnect between the leader and the team that stems from a lack of trust in the workplace. If the team can’t be trusted to do quality work in a timely manner, managers will often take matters into their own hands. This leads to direct involvement in the work that’s done on a daily basis.

But in order for managers to trust others, they need to first earn the trust of the team. Then later, that same trust is returned.

Trust comprises three factors: consistency, credibility, and competence. If you’ve noticed micromanaging tendencies, it typically means that one of these factors is suspect. Let’s look further into the three C’s of trust:

Consistency - A consistent manager doesn’t mean that they all have the same management style or leadership traits. Rather, it refers to a leader that is predictable and provides the team stability in a constantly changing and dynamic organization. By showing consistency, managers clearly convey the work and behavior needed to reach a positive outcome.

Leadership behavior that sustains consistency usually starts with communication. Defined expectations ensure that teams are fully informed about what needs to be done, when things need to happen, and who is on the job. Managers set the expectations, and trust that the team takes the steps toward the results. Another way that leaders can exhibit consistency is by explaining the reasoning behind decisions. That way, teams are less likely to think of that leader as unpredictable and indecisive.

Credibility - Credible leaders are important because it creates trust and engagement among the team, leading to a good company reputation and better profitability. If leaders lack creditability, employees only comply with the rules but do not work towards the common goal in their best efforts, leading to low morale and poor services.

To maintain credibility, managers should streamline operations. Eliminating unnecessary reporting structures, investing in the tools and technology for the team, or establishing strategic goals is a great first step. The trust earned through credibility will be reciprocated by both parties.

Competence - Of course no one expects a leader to be an expert in all things (that’s why it’s necessary to collaborate with team members to gain even more insights), but managers who continue learning their craft are seen as more qualified and trusted to lead. They aren't afraid to be vulnerable and work towards self-improvement, as well as be open and honest about their skills and what talents could be enhanced.

Trust is essential to leading a successful team. But leaders need to remember to give each team member the chance to prove their skills and capabilities before they decide that they’re untrustworthy. Or if the established team is already deemed untrustworthy, it’s important to communicate how trust can be built, so the team continues to grow in the right direction. And lastly, take into consideration that trust is a two-way street. Both the manager and the team need to prove that they’re trustworthy so the feeling is reciprocated.

The good news is that once the patterns of micromanagement are identified, it’s possible to do something about them. So the question becomes, how can micromanagement be stopped in its tracks?

Goals tame micromanagement

The best way to overcome micromanagement is to practice goal management. Goal management is achievement plans that are communicated to all employees. They are simple, straightforward, and actionable objectives that aim to engage everyone in the company to increase productivity and performance. Goals can either be a project, job-specific, or more general. Setting goals like OKRs provides clear directives that allow everyone to prioritize tasks and create a vision to work toward.

Goal management is the trick to leading a team because it removes the urge to overly control members. It ensures that a team can be trusted to complete the incentives that make up the common goal. So if leaders provide the tools and mentorship needed to achieve goals, micro-monsters become a rare sight at the office.

In all, management isn’t about watching over employees or running a tight ship. It’s about creating conditions that support the fullest extent of the team's abilities. Great management requires a well-thought-out goal with actionable steps to trust that people have the agencies to do what they do best.

Micro-monsters be gone!

Micromanaging stems from mistrust. It’s the feeling that a team isn’t capable of getting the job done in a quality and timely manner. Whether true or not, it’s essential to practice leadership methods that encourage teams to collaborate, create, and grow together. Setting team and company-wide goals is a perfect place to start. In doing so, managers will see better results within teams and throughout the organization. So next time you spot a micro-monster lurking around the office, try implementing goal management to encourage a happy and engaged team.

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Content Writer
From California, Lillie is passionate about personal development and the Future of Work. She enjoys writing about New Work concepts, leadership solutions, and productivity hacks, all with a sprinkle of quirky humor.

Answers to your most monstrous questions

What is the definition of micromanagement?
Micromanagement is the practice of excessive supervision of employees. The boss or manager will watch closely to ensure things progress in a way that maintains their power. This is often accompanied by tactics of frequent criticism, constant check-in requirements, or demands that a job is completed a certain way.
What are the signs of micromanagement?
While there are many signs of micromanagement, here are a few that stick out: 1) Every task goes through management. 2) All emails have the boss cc’d. 3) Managers know too much about the everyday tasks of every employee. 4) Work is dictated by the top few. 5) Mistakes are called out, even tiny ones. 5) The little things bother the manager, and it’s obvious.
Why do managers micromanage?
There are many reasons why micromanagement occurs, but ultimately, a leader doesn’t trust their team to accomplish everything that needs to be done.
How does micromanagement hurt teams?
The top negative effect of micromanagement is its impact on morale. Employees feel less engaged in work and less confident in their abilities. Additionally, it limits creative development because there isn’t a safe space to flourish in respective roles.
What does lack of trust in the workplace have to do with micromanagement?
Micromanagement is a byproduct of not trusting team members to get the job done. Trust is comprised of sincerity, credibility, and competence. When leaders feel like one of these factors is suspect, they may step into the micro-monster territory.
How does goal management help develop trust?
A method of building trust between team members is goal management. When a manager feels confident that quality work will be done by the deadline, the way the work is done is left to the individual. This relationship creates a positive, creative, and innovative working environment.